The first vertebrate fossil from Socotra Island (Yemen) is an early Holocene Egyptian fruit bat

Kay Van Damme
Petr Benda
Dirk Van Damme
Peter De Geest
Irka Hajdas


Data on the prehistoric biota of the Socotra Archipelago (Yemen) are scarce. We report on the first extinct vertebrate ever recorded from this western Indian Ocean island group. An exceptionally preserved adult specimen of Egyptian fruit bat Rousettus aegyptiacus was found in a calcite flowstone in Hoq Cave on the NE coast of Socotra Island. Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating on bone fragments estimates the fossil at ca. 7600–7400 cal a BP (radiocarbon age 6669 ± 70 14C a BP) corresponding to an early Holocene wet period in southern Arabia and the Horn of Africa. Morphometric analysis of the skull compared to Recent specimens from the neighbouring mainlands finds the fossil morphologically most similar to Egyptian (Nile Valley and Libyan Desert), not to East African or Middle Eastern populations. The species is currently absent from the Horn of Africa (Somalia and Eastern Ethiopia). Although potentially a stray individual, we also discuss the palaeoenvironmental implications under the hypothetical scenario that the fruit bat is a remnant of an extinct resident population. If so, the extinction of an important pollinator and seed disperser may have impacted the Socotran terrestrial ecosystems.